DES MOINES, Iowa — A basketball star, turned drug dealer, turned activist started an organization to help others with life after prison.
Although US Census Data shows African Americans only make up about four percent of Iowa’s population, the Iowa Department of Corrections statistics show 25 percent of inmates are black.
I.M.A.G.E. Program Founder Bobby Pate used to be one of those inmates and after serving more than a decade of his life in prison he’s dedicated the rest of his life to helping other former inmates with life outside of correctional facilities.
Pate said he started the I.M.A.G.E. Program as an inmate.
“Inmate Movement Against Gang Evolution. We are against the catastrophic behavior and evolution of what the criminalized gang and the society and the whole evolution that comes behind gangs we are against it and we are trying to stop it,” Pate said.
But that doesn’t mean Pate and others that are part of the program set their past aside. They use their stories to help each other.
“I got finished with college. I came back home to Des Moines started hanging out with old friends got caught up into selling drugs. Eventually, it caught up to me. Did 11 consecutive years in prison for possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine. My time in prison was life-changing,” Pate said.
Program member Mendoor Smith said it was in prison that he decided to turn his life around
“I was a high school athlete. I also played college football. I became a drug dealer and from selling drugs I went to prison and in prison, I studied and got a new appreciation for education,” Smith said.
Another program member, Cedrick Hall, said he was determined on his release to be a good example for his 11 children and doesn’t hesitate to share why he ended up there.
“I was in prison for drugs and a gun,” Hall said.
A new part of the I.M.A.G.E. Program is a weekly event called First Fridays where members of the program and community gather to share and educate.
“I wanted to make sure that we had this on Friday night at a time where most people are committing those types of relapse triggers and behaviors,” Pate said.
Smith said after completing his education and being successful in his career he found a new passion for inspiring voting law changes.
“Being in Iowa, I mean there’s a lot of things we can do but we can’t vote and I find it odd that we can’t vote but in congress, you can become a congressman with a felony. So you can serve the offices as a felon but you can’t vote as a felon,” Smith said.
Pate said along with his other initiatives he presented a bill to Iowa legislators that would allow prisoners serving a life sentence, without the possibility of parole, to be evaluated after 25 years served.
“Most of them are changed people. They’re in there just rotting and just being warehoused in the Iowa DOC and most of those people have more integrity than half the people in society. And that’s a reality. It’s a fact. I was there. These guys were there. We all witnessed it. I mean it was a lifer that helped me start the I.M.A.G.E. Program,” Pate said.
Pate said many of the people at the First Fridays event are proof of that change and they hope to help each other stay on the right path.
“I’m not looking back I got a great support system and there’s so much other stuff to do than the thing I chose to do before I was in prison and it was just a matter of finding myself and a matter of realizing the preciousness of life,” Hall said.
Smith said he wants to be a part of it because he wants to make a difference.
“The most important aspect is to not allow somebody to make the same mistakes that I made. I made plenty of bad choices and I did my time and I paid for those and I wouldn’t want to see anybody else go that route,” Smith said.
I.M.A.G.E. Program First Fridays happen just about every week at the Downtown YMCA from 6 to 8 p.m. You can learn more about the program here. Pate also has a radio show on 98.3 FM every Sunday at 9 a.m.